Friday, July 03, 2015

The Battles of Coronel and Falkland Islands (2014 BFI National Archive digital restoration)

The Battles of Coronel and Falkland Islands. Click to enlarge the images.
Falklandin meritaistelu. GB 1927. D: Walter Summers. SC: Frank C. Bowen, John Buchan, Harry Engholm. DP: Jack Parker, Stanley Rodwell, E. E. Warneford. ED: Merritt Crawford. C: Craighall Sherry (ammiraglio Sturdee), Hans von Slock (ammiraglio von Spee). P: H. Bruce Woolfe per British Instructional Films Ltd., The British Admiralty, The Navy League. DCP. 105’. B&w. English intertitles. From: BFI – National Archive.
    Restored by BFI – National Archive in association with Deluxe Digital. Original music performed by The Band of Her Majesty’s Royal Marines. New score composed and orchestrated by Simon Dobson, commissioned by BFI and supported by Arts Council England, the Gosling Foundation, the Hartnett Conservation Trust, PRS for Music Foundation and the Charles Skey Charitable Trust. Restored with the support of Matt Spick.
    Viewed at Cinema Lumiere - Sala Officinema/Mastroianni (Bologna, Il Cinema Ritrovato) (Recovered & Restored), introduced by Bryony Dixon, simultaneous translation in Italian through headphones, 3 July 2015.

Bryony Dixon (Il Cinema Ritrovato catalogue and website): "Is The Battles of Coronel and Falkland Islands a drama or a documentary? Along the spectrum of fiction to non-fiction this feature film is placed far towards the drama end but with strong documentary credentials. It is essentially a highly accurate dramatic reconstruction of the two eponymous related naval actions in the early months of the First World War. In the first battle off Coronel in Chile, a German Admiral, Maximilian Graf von Spee, engaged a British squadron which had been sent to stop him attacking British shipping. He sank the battleships Good Hope and Monmouth with the loss of all hands (1,570 dead) including Vice Admiral Craddock. The British Admiralty, now under Winston Churchill and Admiral ‘Jackie’ Fisher, despatched two new battle cruisers Inflexible and Invincible under Rear Admiral Sturdee and engaged von Spee off the Falkland Islands."

"The film was the most ambitious of a series of battle reconstructions made by Harry Bruce Woolfe’s company, British Instructional Films. [...] The photography, composition, lighting and pacing are masterly but the film also retains a strong documentary impulse with its detailed research, and use of exteriors and real locations and some stand-ins, as St Mary’s in the Isles of Scilly doubles as Port Stanley in the Falklands. Most impressive, perhaps, to a modem audience is the use of real warships, made possible with the full co-operation of the Admiralty. The ships are the stars of the show and significantly, in the surviving print, the ships are credited, the actors are not."

"With access to the ships of the Mediterranean Fleet off Malta and to the docks at Devonport, Summers was also able to take advantage of excellent advisors and writers such as John Buchan and Harry Engholm and he even had the assistance of a young Anthony Asquith hanging around the studio anxious for his first break. There was also an excellent technical team that could handle the logistics of shooting at sea on a warship and edit complex montage sequences. The seven-minute section titled The Effort showing the preparations of the two great battleships is, to my mind, one of the best pieces of filmmaking in British cinema."
(Bryony Dixon)

Ben Thompson: "The film had suffered extensive wear and tear during its 86-year history and there was severe damage in some key shots as well as some missing inserts, such as letters and telegrams, which we were lucky enough to be able to retrieve from another copy. The original materials were acquired by the BFI National Archive sometime around the late 1940s but the original nitrate negatives decomposed early on. We have worked primarily with a second generation positive copy, and some other later elements which were scanned at 4K resolution. Extensive grading and months of digital restoration with the specialist team at Deluxe were needed to represent the quality of what is a brilliantly cinematic work. We have made both a new 35 mm negative and digital masters for permanent preservation for the nation." (Ben Thompson, Il Cinema Ritrovato catalogue and website)

AA: Sometimes erroneously called a documentary The Battles of Coronel and Falkland Islands is an excellent realistic fictional reconstruction of two naval battles between Britain and Germany on the coasts of Chile and Argentine in 1914.

The First World War on European fronts was an unheard-of theatre of carnage and massacre that forever washed away notions of glory from warfare.

Nothing of the kind is on display here. When the Germans celebrate their triumph over the Brits in Valparaiso one of them suggests "eternal damnation to the British Navy". Admiral von Spee rejects this outright and suggests "a glass in honour of a gallant enemy".

An impressive big budget epic with exciting montages of battles and processes of repairing and maintaining battleships, also with a sense of humour in the painting scenes. A film of old world gallantry.

The new score is perfect for the movie, and it has even interesting moments of machine music in the style of Edmund Meisel for Battleship Potemkin.

The restoration is brilliant.

BFI Screenonline synopsis:

"The British Navy mount guard over the outposts of the Empire. In the South Pacific, Admiral Sir Charles Cradock commands the 5th Light Cruiser Squadron consisting of HMS Good Hope, Monmouth and Glasgow. The German fleet is sighted under the command of Admiral Graf von Spee, with the vessels SMS Leipzig, Nürnberg, Dresden, Gneisenau and the flagship Scharnhorst. Acting on standing orders, Cradock decides to attack the vastly superior German force but is outgunned and outclassed. During fighting Monmouth is destroyed and flagship Good Hope is also shattered by the enemy force and slowly sinks."

"In London, Lord Fisher, the first sea lord, hears of the defeat and orders a counter-attack to be carried out by the new battles cruisers Inflexible and Invincible under the command of Admiral Sir Doveton Sturdee. The ships are refitted in record time at Plymouth and proceed to the South Atlantic in pursuit. Meanwhile, Admiral von Spee is fêted by the German colony at Valparaiso in honour of his great victory. He decides to proceed to the Falkland Islands in order to seize coal supplies and destroy the wireless station at the Port Stanley. Sturdee's fleet arrive and commence re-coaling. The Islands' army volunteers prepare to defend the harbour and radio transmitter. Von Spee orders two of his ships, the Gneisenau and Leipzig, to approach the Islands to make a landing party. From Port Stanley, the enemy ships are sighted on the horizon and feverish preparations ensue. Sturdee creates fake smoke in one of the ships to give the impression that they are fully fuelled and ready for action, while he makes ready his five light cruisers."

"They weigh anchor and prepare to do battle with the enemy ships. The vessels Invincible and Inflexible together with HMS Kent, Cornwall, Glasgow and Carnarvon eventually set out in pursuit of the enemy. Realising he is outgunned, Von Spee orders Dresden, Nürnberg and Leipzig to retire. Before reaching neutral ports, they are attacked by Sturdee's fleet, resulting in the sinking of Leipzig and Nurnberg. The remaining German vessels, Scharnhorst and Gneisenau fight desperately but are slowly overpowered. Scharnhorst catches fire and prior to sinking her crew abandon ship. The Gneisenau is scuttled by her crew and her survivors with are saved by the men of Sturdee's flagship."

"In London, Admiral Fisher is brought the news of the victory."
(end of synopsis)

Bryony Dixon: introduction in BFI Screenonline:

"The Battles of Coronel and the Falkland Islands was one of a series of First World War battle reconstructions made by Walter Summers at British Instructional. If not exactly propagandist, they were certainly patriotic; this film in particular was made "with the co-operation of the British Admiralty, The Navy League and an Advisory Committee"."

"The film was partly a response to a German production of the previous year, Unsere Emden (1926), representing another famous WWI naval engagement. Despite German navy support, it was a detached, detailed account of the events with a scrupulous fairness in dealing with the British enemy. In his own film, Summers was equally fair in his depiction of the Germans and their actions. Much later, Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger followed in this tradition with their own The Battle of the River Plate (1956), which describes an almost identical sequence of South Atlantic naval conflicts during WWII."

"The Battles of Coronel and the Falkland Islands is a painstaking reconstruction with necessarily dramatised sections, in which, for example, Lord Admiral Fisher is seen making his strategic response to the German action at Coronel. It was a monumental production, shot almost entirely on location on battleships supplied by the Admiralty. St Mary's in the Scilly Isles convincingly stood in for the Falklands. The few studio sequences are carefully disguised: in one sequence, a lighting effect simulates the reflection of water coming through a porthole and playing on the opposite wall."

"Meticulous naval and military detail was supplied by a litany of expert advisors and the script, by a small group headed by John Buchan, celebrated author of The 39 Steps, is pared down and well structured to build dramatic tension in what is essentially a documentary. Summers was an aficionado of the latest cinematic techniques, and some of the film's most striking moments are the montage sequences of the mechanical workings of the ships and shipyards - the inferno of the engine rooms, pumping pistons and dramatically mounting pressure gauges. These sequences may have been influenced by Abel Gance's La Roue (France, 1922), but Summers probably hadn't yet seen Battleship Potemkin (USSR, 1925) or Metropolis (Germany, 1924). Either way, Summers clearly revelled in the beauty of the form, scale and movement of the machines, and his images of them are as good as anything in any of those more celebrated films.

Bryony Dixon (BFI Screenonline)

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